WASHINGTON, May 18, 2018 — How do you get President Donald Trump to nominate you to lead the government’s second-largest bureaucracy? It helps to tell reporters nice things about him.
Less than 24 hours after he appeared in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room to thank the president for donating his second-quarter salary to the Department of Veterans Affairs, President Trump surprised Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Robert Wilkie by revealing his intention to nominate him as the 10th person to lead the department since it became a cabinet-level agency.
As Wilkie sat unaware in the audience during a White House event on prison reform, Trump began reading prepared remarks, including a list of cabinet officials.
“Joining us today are several members of my Cabinet who are working diligently on this issue: Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Zinke, Secretary Acosta, Secretary Perry, Secretary DeVos, and Acting Secretary Wilkie, who, by the way, has done an incredible job at the VA,” Trump said.
But while what came out of the president’s mouth next may not have been a surprise to journalists and other Trump-watchers who’ve gotten used to Trump’s habit of announcing decisions and personnel changes any time a camera is pointed at him, it was, at least according to the president, a surprise to Wilkie.
“I’ll be informing him in a little while — he doesn’t know this yet — that we’re going to be putting his name up for nomination to be Secretary of the Veterans Administration.”
Aware of what he’d just done, Trump apologized for ruining the surprise but said he’d meet with Wilkie later before rattling off a list of his administration’s VA-related accomplishments.
“We’re very close to getting Choice approved,” Trump said, referring to the VA Mission Act, which is awaiting Senate approval after passing the House earlier this week, “and we had just approved [the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act] which, for almost 40 years, they could not get approved.”
A Pentagon insider who served in the George W. Bush administration, Wilkie’s official biography notes he is the son of a cavalry officer and grew up at Fort Bragg.
He is also the second person the president has nominated to lead the VA following a performance before the White House press corps.
Trump previously tapped the head of the White House Medical Unit, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, to take over the Veterans Affairs department after the March 31 departure of Dr. David Shulkin, the sole cabinet-level holdover from the Obama administration and only Trump cabinet official to be unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
The White House said Shulkin resigned amid controversy over a July 2017 trip to Europe on which he brought his wife, though he later said he’d been fired for resisting Trump’s plans to privatize the department, which is the largest integrated health care system in the United States.
Trump’s decision to pick Jackson, then his personal physician, despite his having never managed anything larger than the 40-person White House unit which provides care to the president, vice president, their families, and occasionally staff or anyone else at the White House in need of medical attention, came three months after Jackson briefed reporters on results of the president’s annual medical examination.
Jackson’s performance raised some eyebrows after he told reporters that Trump, who does not exercise and is a frequent consumer of fast food, “might live to be 200 years old.” He attributed Trump’s health, which he called “excellent,” to the president’s “great genes.”
As a non-physician, Wilkie gave reporters no insight into Trump’s health or genetics, but like Jackson, he had only good things to say about the president when he accompanied White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to the briefing room.
Wilkie, who appeared in his capacity as Acting VA Secretary, spoke to reporters after Sanders revealed that Trump, who has pledged to donate his $400,000 salary to charity, would be donating the prior three months of earnings to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I want to thank you for President Trump’s generosity,” he told Sanders before turning to the assembled press before lavishing praise on the president.
“President Trump understands the critical role of caregivers in meeting the essential needs of America’s veterans,” Wilkie said, later adding: “I am deeply grateful to President Trump for providing me the opportunity to serve America’s veterans and for his generosity in supporting them.”
When It Comes To Her ‘Be Best’ Campaign, Melania Trump Says She’s Ignoring Critics, Moving Forward
WASHINGTON, November 15, 2018 — As she stepped up to the podium Thursday to address the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference, First Lady Melania Trump’s message for critics who say she should stay away from making the fight against cyberbullying her cause was a familiar one: I don’t care — do you?
While those words became closely associated with her visit to a detention center housing immigrant children who her husband’s administration had taken from their parents, they also summed up the message she delivered at Thursday’s conference.
Speaking at the outset of a panel featuring a number of student anti-cyberbullying advocates, Mrs. Trump addressed her detractors head-on by noting that the argument made by critics — that she shouldn’t be making cyberbullying a cause if she’s not willing to confront her husband about the Twitter-based name calling that has become a centerpiece of his political persona — was “not news or surprising” to her.
“I remain committed to tackling this topic because it will provide a better world for our children,” she said. “I hope that like I do, you will consider using their negative words as motivation to do all you can to bring awareness and understanding about responsible online behavior.”
Mrs. Trump said the conference’s theme, “Creating a Culture of Responsibility Online,” was what her “Be Best” anti-cyberbullying initiative is all about, adding that as a mother to a young son, she feels strongly that children should be taught about online safety and responsible habits from a young age.
Noting that students are routinely taught about showing respect for others in an in-person setting, she said that the question of how to translate those lessons into the digital world was one of the “challenging questions” she has faced as both a mother and as First Lady.
“Today’s technology provides people with a digital shield to hide behind, and being anonymous often takes the place of being caring and responsible, which can lead to children and adults feeling empowered to be unkind and at times, cruel,” she said.
Conway Defends Trump’s Continuing Lie On GOP Attempts To Repeal Pre-Existing Conditions Coverage
WASHINGTON, October 24, 2018 — As the mad dash to the midterm election continues, Donald Trump continues to lie about Republican intentions toward the Affordable Care Act provision that requires insurance carriers to cover preexisting conditions.
At a Monday rally for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is up for reelection this year, Trump claimed that Republicans intend to ensure such protections — which were a centerpiece of his predecessor’s signature legislative accomplishment — will remain intact.
On Wednesday, he repeated the claim in a tweet, writing: “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.”
When asked by BeltwayBreakfast why Trump was continuing to lie about his own party’s stance on preexisting condition coverage, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway first suggested this reporter did not understand health care policy, claimed President Trump has a plan to cover pre-existing conditions, and suggested that Republicans are in favor of such coverage because an Indiana GOP Senate candidate provided preexisting condition coverage to employees of his small business before it was required by law.
However, the newfound love for requiring insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions which Trump and his GOP acolytes are now professing flies in the face of nearly ten years of GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The GOP-controlled Congress managed to eliminate the ACA’s mandate to carry health insurance last year when it passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, using so-called reconciliation rules in the Senate to get around the possibility of a Democratic filibuster, which could only be ended if Democrats participated to provide the required 60 votes.
However, GOP’s last wholesale attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act — including the ban on denials for preexisting conditions — failed after the late Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, dramatically lowered his thumb to vote against it during an early-morning Senate session. Trump had wholeheartedly supported the repeal and complained about it for months at his frequent rallies, even as McCain lay dying of brain cancer.
While some Republicans in Congress have previously expressed a desire to try to repeal the ACA once more, a group of Republican state attorneys general is trying to get the courts to do the work for them with a lawsuit which seeks to invalidate the preexisting condition requirement because the individual mandate has been repealed.
Pressed further on why Trump now claims his party will do something it tried for years to do, Conway asked for evidence. When confronted with the GOP’s multiple votes to repeal the ACA, Trump’s support, and the administration’s failure to defend against the GOP-backed lawsuit, she dismissed the votes as irrelevant because Trump is not a legislator, even though he has supported the repeal wholeheartedly as a candidate and as president.
When it was pointed out to Conway that under President Trump, the Department of Justice has taken the unusual step of refusing to defend against the lawsuit, she had no response other than to attack this reporter and ask for the next question.
Haley Resigns As U.N. Ambassador, Shoots Down 2020 Speculation
WASHINGTON, October 9, 2018 — Ambassador Nikki Haley will “take a break” from public service by resigning from her position as the United States’ top U.N. envoy at the end of the year, President Trump said Tuesday morning.
Haley will be leaving “at the end of the year,” Trump said while sitting alongside her in the Oval Office, citing the former South Carolina governor’s desire to “take a break.”
“You have been very special to me, done an incredible job,” he said while addressing Haley, adding that she has done an “incredible job” and “gets it.”
The sudden announcement came less than an hour after Axios broke the surprise news of her resignation.
Within minutes of the story’s appearance online, Haley was spotted by reporters as she walked into the Oval Office with several aides. But when she appeared alongside Trump shortly after she took pains to thank Trump for allowing her to serve, and called her time representing the U.S. at the United Nations “the honor of a lifetime.”
Trump’s conduct of foreign policy, Haley continued, has caused the United States to be respected again.
“Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do,” she said.
While some pundits speculated that the timing was connected to the #MeToo-related drama over now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, when he and Haley appeared before cameras, Trump claimed that Haley first approached him six months ago about setting a timetable to depart before the end of the Trump administration’s second year.
Haley is one of two members of the foreign policy team to have served for the entirety of Trump’s time in office. She joined the administration at a time when very few members of the Republican foreign policy establishment wanted to serve the new president, which served him just fine, as most of them had signed open letters criticizing him.
As so-called moderates like former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were forced out after clashing with Trump over his disdain for international multilateral agreements like the Iran nuclear deal, Haley remained a fixture and an oasis of stability in an administration that has seen turnover at levels unheard of at this point in a president’s first term.
Even as other establishment-minded administration officials incurred Trump’s wrath for pushing back on his most extreme impulses and saw their own reputations sullied, Haley managed to thrive in her role at the U.N.
Her New York-based post gave her a place in the spotlight and a chance to burnish her foreign policy credentials. It also gave her enough geographic distance from Washington to avoid the contempt Trump developed for the members of his national security team who he saw more regularly.
But that geographic distance also allowed her to put political distance between her and the president at moments when she would break from him in one way or another, including the aftermath of last year’s white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That distance was most evident on the occasions when she would contradict her boss by sharply criticizing the Russian government, even as he continually dismissed the idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election as a “Democrat hoax” and attacked the Justice Department investigation into the interference as a “witch hunt.”
Haley’s frequent departures from the Gospel of Trump on those matters has made her the subject of endless rumors, most of which place her on the 2020 Republican primary ballot opposing her soon-to-be former boss. But Haley attempted to put a wet blanket on any such speculation by telling reporters that she’d be campaigning for Trump, not against him.
“No, I’m not running in 2020,” she said.